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CANGEMI, MENNA’S GAVEL MAKE DEBUTS

Swearing_in1

Republican Grace Cangemi’s first two hours as Red Bank’s newest council member Monday night were marked largely by the air of civility that has dominated the governing body’s meetings this year.

“I have a great deal of respect for Mayor [Pasquale] Menna, and I look forward to being part of his administration,” Cangemi said in her opening remarks as she filled the seat left vacant by the January resignation of Kaye Ernst.

“I think we’ve made the right decision, and I think you’ll be a credit to the residents of Red Bank,” Menna replied, as a packed council hearing room looked on.

Later, though, came the first, brief burst of verbal fireworks since Menna took the gavel from his predecessor as mayor, Ed McKenna. And he had to use it, too — not that it did any good.

The gavel came out during a discussion of Councilman John Curley’s “adamant” objections to the introduction of a salary ordinance that calls for a $10,000 raise for Gary Watson. With the bump, Watson — who serves simultaneously as assistant borough administrator, acting public utilities director, “certified recycling professional” and parking utility operations manager — would see his salary go to $80,190.

“I don’t think we should be giving anybody a $10,000 raise,” Curley said, calling the proposal “ludicrous.” Democrats R.J. Bifani and finance committee chairman Michael DuPont argued that the raise was justified given the additional duties Watson took over in the parking utility since the elimination of the director’s post last held by Neil Burnip, and a cost-saving consolidation of duties.

But when resident Sean Murphy addressed the issue and linked it to questions about management of the Parks and Rec department, Curley began shouting over Murphy and briefly ignored Menna’s pleas for calm and then some fruitless gavel-banging.

Order was soon restored, and Cangemi appeared concilliatory both to her former running mate, Curley, and to the Democrats. “Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money,” she said. “But there may be a number between here and there that’s more reasonable.”

It turned out to be a busy council session, with these developments:

• Indications that eliminating or curtailing health-benefits-for-council-members is not off the table. “This is an area we might potentially be able to save money on,” DuPont said. “We hope to have some definite answers or at least some direction in the next couple of weeks.

DuPont said he had learned from the New Jersey League of Municipalities that 80 percent of the state’s governing bodies offer insurance to elected officials, but was planning to do further research.

Later, he deflected a request by River Street resident Gary Morris that the continuation of benefits be put up for public referendum in the November election. “Let us decide,” Morris said, to which DuPont replied, “We might decide for you.”

• The announcement of plans by the borough to put up for sale the building that now houses the Count Basie Learning Center at the corner of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue, with a minimum bid of $800,000. Council President Sharon Lee urged her colleagues to use at least some of the proceeds of the eventual sale for unspecified new Parks and Recreation Department facilities. Resident David Prown said the sale would be a blow to 50 or 60 kids who use the facility as a community center.

• The swearing-in of two police patrolmen, who begin work April 1, raising the total number of officers in the department to 43.

• A resolution honoring butcher and jazz aficionado Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta for a lifetime of positive influence on young visitors to his store, an informal museum of jazz amid the canned goods and hog’s feet.

• The creation of a borough committee to begin planning next year’s borough centennial. Among those appointed were former mayors McKenna and Michael Arnone, as well as Historical Commission Chairman George Bowden.

• The unanimous passage of a resolution, introduced by DuPont and mirroring one passed in Sea Bright, that puts the borough on record opposing a sharp price increase in New Jersey Natural Gas Co prices, approved recently by the state Board of Public Utilities.

• Praise by Menna for the “spectacular” announcement that Tiffany & Co. would be opening a store in Red Bank.

• The introduction of an ordinance to limit parking on Maple Avenue to two hours, to conform with existing signage. According to Menna, because of an oversight, the ordinance enabling enforcement was never adopted, and students from Red Bank Catholic High School have used the available spaces to the exclusion of shoppers.

• Two weddings, conducted en Espanol by Menna.

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